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PRC (Producers Releasing Corporation)

by Mike Haberfelner

August 2005

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The 1930's saw a steady rise and fall of independent production companies, such as Puritan Pictures, Supreme Pictures, Syndicate Pictures & Grand National, to randomly pick a few. By 1940, this fluctuation was pretty much over, as most of the smaller outfits were gone & established b-movie companies like Republic [Republic history - click here] & second generation Monogram were pretty much keeping the market in supply ... & in came small PRC, to fill the void the many small companies that went belly up by the late 1930's had left.


The story of PRC itself is a curious one, as it had already ended before it actually begun ... but one thing after another: In 1939, Ben Judell has formed PDC (Producers Distributing Company), primarily as a distribution outfit for his Producers Pictures Corporation, & he hired brothers Sigmund Neufeld & Sam Newfield, by then established professionals, to do pictures for him as producer & director, respectively. 

The first film produced by Producers Pictures Corporation and distributed by PDC was probably their most interesting one, Hitler - Beast of Berlin (1939), an early piece of anti-Nazi-propaganda back in a time when most film-studios, especially the majors, shyed away from this sensible subject or ignored current politics altogether. Not that Hitler - Beast of Berlin was a great film, but it was a bold and impressive start for the young studio. However, PDC never came into full swing due to financial difficulties right from the start, & after only 7 films was facing bankrupcy.


The company was then renamed Producers Releasing Corporation, or short PRC, & Harry Rathner was appointed new president ... but he could do little to keep the company from going bust, & in 1940, it was absorbed by Pathe ...

& that should have been the end of it, right ?


Only it wasn't.

For some reason Pathe kept the PRC brandname, appointed O.Henry Briggs new president (who was in 1944 succeeded by Leon Fromkess, former treasurer of Monogram), kept Sigmund Neufeld as producer & Sam Newfield as the company's most prolific director & put out B-movies pretty much a dime a dozen.



PRC's main product was, as with many B-movie outfits of the time, of course Western, & many cowboy stars in the twilight of their career found a safe haven in PRC, at least for a while, as there were Tim McCoy, Tex Ritter & Bob Steele, to name but a few. PRC also had their own singing cowboy Eddie Dean, who played in a string of CineColor Westerns for the studio, as well as not one but 2 cowboy trios, the Frontier Marshals & the Texas Rangers, as well as a host of Western series that all used the same sidekick, Fuzzy Al St.John, the Lone Rider-series (starring George Houston & later Bob Livingston), the Billy the Kid-series (starring Bob Steele [Bob Steele bio - click here] & later Buster Crabbe [Buster Crabbe bio - click here]), the Billy Carson-series (starring Buster Crabbe) & the Lash La Rue-series (starring Al La Rue - a series which was picked up by Western Adventures after the demise of PRC) [Lash La Rue bio - click here].



Besides Westerns, PRC made an amusing string of usually underbudgeted jungle dramas (e.g. Blonde Savage, Jungle Man, Nabonga, White Pongo, ...), often with Crash Corrigan playing the ape [Crash Corrigan bio - click here], quite some crime dramas & film noirs (e.g. The Lady Confesses, Apology for Murder, Anthony Mann's early Railroaded !, Detour, Strange Illusion & Bluebeard by Edgar G Ulmer, ...) as well as some rather mediocre comedies (e.g. Machine Gun Mama, House of Errors starring Harold Lloyd, ...), but the other genre (besides Westerns) PRC might be best remembered for is possibly horror.



During its brief existence, PRC put out quite a few memorable horror films, some memorable because they are so crappy, but some are overlooked classics. The most famous is probably Devil Bat, in which Bela Lugosi (in his only role for the studio) [Bela Lugosi bio - click here] does what he does best: look sinister & threaten the entire cast. However his performance is pretty good & the film is sufficiently creepy. The film proved to be quite successful, & since PRC was a rather cheap studio, pretty much all of it was recycled in later films. A sequel, called Devil Bat's Daughter, reused some of the footage of the film, the actual bat prop made its way into Wild Horse Phantom, a Billy Carson-Western, & the plot was remade as The Flying Serpent with George Zucco [George Zucco bio - click here] in the Bela Lugosi-role.


Other PRC-horrors include Black Raven, an Old Dark house thriller starring George Zucco, Fog Island, again with George Zucco plus Lionel Atwill [Lionel Atwill bio - click here], Dead Men Walk with (you guessed it) George Zucco as vampire, & in Mad Monster Zucco is a mad scientist who experiments on Glenn Strange.


PRC's best horror film though might be Strangler of the Swamp by German immigrant Frank Wisbar, who (semi-)remade his German melodram Fährmann Maria as a creepy ghost story that uses its limited sets to full advantage & creates an atmosphere with the simplest of means (like fogmachines, low key lighting or deliberately keeping the face of the film's ghost creature in the dark), & which at least in my view is a undeservedly overlooked horror classic of the 1940's.


Of special interest in PRC's filmography might also be an American World War II propaganda effort from 1943, Hitler's Madman, the first American film by German director Douglas Sirk (who in Germany made a name of himself as Detlef Sierck), who later became renowned especially for his melodramas. Legend has it that big MGM was so impressed by the film which stars John Carradine as a Nazi [John Carradine-bio - click here] that it picked the film up for distribution, granting it a much wider exposure than PRC could have offered.


Deals like this of course worked both ways, as Jean Yarbrough's The Brute Man from 1946 shows [Jean Yarbrough-bio - click here]: The film was produced by Universal and starred Rondo Hatton, a man suffering from acromegaly - a rare disease causing uncontrollable growth in head, hands and feet - who has become Universal's real life in-house monster actor. But sadly enough, Rondo Hatton died before the film was released, and all of a sudden Universal felt ashamed to release the film, but instead of just scrap it they decided to still make a little money out of it and offered the film to little PRC for distribution - who gladly accepted ...


PRC's history as production house however was over way too soon, in 1948, when the company was absorbed by J.Arthur Rank's Eagle Lion & ceased to exist (incidently roughly when the era of the classic b-movie came to  an end as well). What remains though is a plethora of b-movies, many just bad, some boring, some precursors to the classic B's of the 1950's, & some veritable gems.


To this day, many jokingly refer to PRC as standing for Pretty Rotten Crap, which is a tad unfair in my view. True, many films of the studio were shot in about 6 days time, were cheaper than they should have been & have a bit of a conveyor belt look, & PRC did never have any aspirations to produce anything better than a B, but that doesn't prevent many of the films from being good entertainment, often lots funnier (if sometimes for the wrong reasons) than comparable product from bigger studios of the same period.


© by Mike Haberfelner

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Robots and rats,
demons and potholes,
cuddly toys and
shopping mall Santas,
love and death and everything in between,
Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

is all of that.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to
a collection of short stories and mini-plays
ranging from the horrific to the darkly humourous,
from the post-apocalyptic
to the weirdly romantic,
tales that will give you a chill and maybe a chuckle, all thought up by
the twisted mind of
screenwriter and film reviewer
Michael Haberfelner.


Tales to Chill
Your Bones to

the new anthology by
Michael Haberfelner


Out now from




On the same day
a Burglar wants to kill you
and your Ex wants
to make up ...
... and for the life of it,
you can't decide


A Killer Conversation

produced by and starring
Melanie Denholme
directed by
David V.G. Davies
written by
Michael Haberfelner
Ryan Hunter and
Rudy Barrow

out now on DVD